Why We Remember: Jake’s Gift Is a Heartfelt Tribute to Veterans

One woman. Two characters. Thousands of soldiers who never made it home. But for playwright/performer Julia Mackey, the shores of Juno Beach were never meant to be their final resting place.

Presented at Lunchbox Theatre, Mackey’s one-woman show Jake’s Gift delivers a moving dramatic experience.

Directed by Dirk Van Stralen, Jake’s Gift tells the story of Jake, a Canadian WWII veteran who (reluctantly) returns to Normandy, France for the 60th anniversary of D-Day. The trip brings back painful memories for Jake who lost his older brother Chester during the war – a difficult loss he has been unable to deal with in the years since. Jake develops an unlikely friendship with a 10-year-old local named Isabelle. Isabelle’s innocent fascination with D-Day, though first met with resistance, pushes Jake to confront his past and, in doing so, come to terms with his brother’s death.

The weight of the war and its personal impact is marked all over Jake’s body – from his difficulty walking to his shaking arm and curled fingers. Meanwhile, Isabelle’s spirited curiosity translates to big, energetic movement from Mackey. This contrast is vital to the remembrance Mackey gives to those who served. It reminds us of what was fought for, what was gained, but, above all, what price it all came at.

Instead of trying to capture the totality of what the war meant, Mackey chooses to find meaning in the personal. Even though the war was won and he returned home, a piece of Jake was left behind. We see that not only in his body, but in his speech – in the way he masks his pain with a tough demeanor. This intimate approach to the war makes for an emotional experience, because we see beyond the facts and numbers most of us are aware of by this point and into a deeper understanding of war. An understanding which can only be communicated through live performance.

And that is the major strength of this show: Mackey’s intimacy with both history and her audience. Mackey, as a result, proves that sometimes less is more with her simplistic approach to such a broad subject.

Mackey’s transitions between characters are, for the most part, smooth. However, Isabelle’s French accent frequently comes and goes, never quite returning to the same level Mackey began with at the top of the show. The energy of Mackey’s performance, on the other hand, is strong throughout.

Unfortunately, Jake’s Gift overstays its welcome. Mackey draws out the play’s final moments, wringing out any last bit of tears she can from the audience. It is particularly frustrating to watch since the play’s conclusion is fairly predictable. Mackey ends with a beautiful picture on stage, but it is hard not to feel as though that the emotional punch of the moment could have been greater with a tighter denouement.

The audience, nonetheless, jump to their feet for Mackey – a well deserved standing ovation, indeed.

While Jake’s Gift may not be revolutionary, Mackey’s work carries the memory of the fallen with an inspired sincerity which resonates from beginning to end.

Lunchbox Theatre’s production of Julia Mackey’s Jake’s Gift ran from Oct 27-Nov 22, 2014.

For more information about the show, visit: http://www.lunchboxtheatre.com/calendar/2014/10/27/jakes-gift-by-julia-mackey?view=calendar

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